A Vintage Advertising Film Intelligently Satirizes the Selling of the American Dream: Watch The Your Name Here Story (1960)

When did the Unit­ed States of Amer­i­ca attain peak earnest­ness? It had to have hap­pened some­time in the long 1950s, begin­ning with vic­to­ry in the Sec­ond World War and end­ing with the cul­tur­al shifts of the ear­ly 60s. Though indi­vid­ual Amer­i­cans back then might express dis­con­tent and even cyn­i­cism about the nation, U.S. mass cul­ture kept the dial set to tri­umphant opti­mism. And in mid­cen­tu­ry Amer­i­ca there was no cul­tur­al force quite as mass as adver­tis­ing, which broad­cast its mes­sages in not just the media of print, radio, tele­vi­sion, and bill­board, but film as well. This gold­en age of Amer­i­can earnest­ness coin­cides with the gold­en age of the Calvin Com­pa­ny, once the coun­try’s dom­i­nant mak­er of adver­tis­ing, edu­ca­tion­al, and indus­tri­al films.

Found­ed in Kansas City in 1931, the Calvin Com­pa­ny cap­i­tal­ized ear­ly on the adver­tis­ing poten­tial of 16-mil­lime­ter film. At first con­sid­ered suit­able only for “home movies,” the for­mat turned out to be ide­al for sales pitch­es, cor­po­rate train­ing ses­sions, and class­room screen­ings. Calv­in’s client list soon grew to include Gen­er­al Mills, Goodyear, Mon­san­to, West­ing­house, and Ency­clo­pe­dia Bri­tan­ni­ca, as well as the Navy, the Air Force, and the Office of Edu­ca­tion.

That we can still watch some of the com­pa­ny’s many pro­duc­tions today we owe to the efforts of Rick Prelinger, whose epony­mous film archives we’ve pre­vi­ous­ly fea­tured here on Open Cul­ture. At the Inter­net Archive you can watch such Calvin clas­sics as Cof­fee BreakForty Bil­lion Ene­miesFifty Years of Pow­ered FlightThe Bright Young New­com­er, and Enforc­ing Rules and Pro­ce­dures.

None have the rep­u­ta­tion of The Your Name Here Sto­ry, pro­duced by Calvin in 1960 as “the first tru­ly all-pur­pose film.” While pre­vi­ous jobs were made to order, painstak­ing­ly tai­lored by an ever-expand­ing staff of film­mak­ers to the needs the com­mis­sion­ing clients, The Your Name Here Sto­ry is com­plete­ly gener­ic. “From the dawn of human his­to­ry, a bet­ter way of life has been man’s dream,” booms its nar­ra­tor, launch­ing into an open­ing whose epic form will be famil­iar to any­one who’s put off writ­ing a term paper until the night before. After telling the sto­ry of civ­i­liza­tion — espe­cial­ly Amer­i­can civ­i­liza­tion — in a brisk two min­utes, the film arrives in high-tech moder­ni­ty. Alas, “despite the world’s high­est liv­ing stan­dards, the aver­age Amer­i­can remained vague­ly dis­con­tent, aware that his goal of a bet­ter way of life had still not been ful­ly real­ized. There was some­thing miss­ing.”

“Gad, it’s iron­ic,” says a pro­to­typ­i­cal Amer­i­can hus­band of the day, lying awake along­side his wife, both of them sleep­less with dis­sat­is­fac­tion. “With all our tech­nol­o­gy and indus­tri­al know-how, we still don’t have the one thing that could give us a bet­ter way of life.” That “one thing” is any­thing the com­pa­ny that licens­es The Your Name Here Sto­ry hap­pens to make, footage of which they can eas­i­ly insert into the var­i­ous spaces pro­vid­ed through­out the film. “In count­less ways, direct­ly and indi­rect­ly, YOUR PRODUCT HERE serves the nation and its cit­i­zens,” says the nar­ra­tor, cred­it­ing what­ev­er it may be with play­ing a vital role in help­ing them to “achieve suc­cess,” “enjoy health­ful recre­ation,” “grow big­ger crops,” “strength­en our nation­al defense,” and of course “get real smok­ing sat­is­fac­tion.”

Some may now watch most of The Your Name Here Sto­ry before catch­ing on to the film’s satir­i­cal intent. That owes to the fact that the Calvin Com­pa­ny itself defined the look and feel of the orga­ni­za­tion­al cul­ture of the 1950s, at least as it remains in cul­tur­al mem­o­ry. Orig­i­nal­ly cre­at­ed as a bit of fun for the “Calvin Work­shop,” the com­pa­ny’s annu­al gath­er­ing of indus­tri­al film pro­duc­ers and tech­ni­cians, the film’s spoofs of what Sapi­ens author Yuval Noah Harari has termed the “mil­i­tary-indus­tri­al-sci­en­tif­ic com­plex” almost feel made for audi­ences of the future. Among the Calvin Com­pa­ny’s sur­viv­ing films we also find 1956’s A Mag­ic Bond, direct­ed by no less notable a son of Kansas City than Robert Alt­man. Know­ing what we now do of its self-aware cor­po­rate cul­ture, does it comes as a sur­prise that Calvin would have been the train­ing ground for Hol­ly­wood’s pre-emi­nent smart-aleck?

via Aeon

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Watch the First Com­mer­cial Ever Shown on Amer­i­can TV, 1941

Eisen­how­er Answers Amer­i­ca: The First Polit­i­cal Adver­tise­ments on Amer­i­can TV (1952)

Before Mad Men: Famil­iar and For­got­ten Ads from 1950s to 1980s Now Online

A Gallery of Mad Magazine’s Rol­lick­ing Fake Adver­tise­ments from the 1960s

Sell & Spin: The His­to­ry of Adver­tis­ing, Nar­rat­ed by Dick Cavett (1999)

Down­load 6600 Free Films from The Prelinger Archives and Use Them How­ev­er You Like

Based in Seoul, Col­in Mar­shall writes and broad­casts on cities, lan­guage, and cul­ture. His projects include the book The State­less City: a Walk through 21st-Cen­tu­ry Los Ange­les and the video series The City in Cin­e­ma. Fol­low him on Twit­ter at @colinmarshall, on Face­book, or on Insta­gram.

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